Top IDP Fantasy Rookies: Linebackers

Top IDP Fantasy Rookies: Linebackers


Top IDP Fantasy Rookies: Linebackers

Joey Bosa – Rush OLB

6’5” 269 lbs Ohio State
Pick 3, Round 1 (3)  Chargers

IDP players collectively groaned when the premier rush end talent in the draft went to a 3-4 team. As such, Joey Bosa will be standing up and playing OLB for the Chargers. I like Bosa to eventually mold into a quality rush OLB for the Chargers but it’s hard to envision Bosa becoming a major difference maker in year 1. He might have been drafted as high as Von Miller but he is not Von Miller. Bosa is very physical on his edge, maybe too physical as evidenced by the amount of penalties he took over the course of his college career. He seems too eager to engage in his block than to try to slip his blocker at times. In addition, his play against the run is suspect at times, getting washed out at the run comes to his side as well as edge discipline. That said, Bosa is maybe the most NFL ready rush end in terms of athleticism, physicality and tools to use in order to success in the position. His coverage skills are better than you’d expect.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: I’d pass on Bosa in all redraft league formats with the exception of the deepest of big play leagues.
Dynasty: Big play dynasty leagues should try to find an excuse to stash Bosa on a taxi squad while his play against the run improves or his role fleshes out enough when he can be dropped. Balanced or tackle heavy leagues should look elsewhere.

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Leonard Floyd – Rush OLB

6’6” 244 lbs Georgia
Pick 9, Round 1 (9)  Bears

Another rush OLB taken in the top 10, Leonard Floyd completes the overhaul that the Bears have executed on their linebacking corps after a disastrous year last year. Floyd figures to be the feared rush OLB in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense going forward. While I like Floyd’s speed and shiftiness, I don’t think he is going to see much work on early downs. Floyd is fast and agile but will struggle to shake NFL blockers when engaged. At 6’6” 244 lbs, there are tight ends that will that will give Floyd a run for his money power-wise much less NFL tackles. I think that Floyd’s role materializes on third-down and obvious pass rush situations. He is probably a liability in the run game and there was more than one example of poor angles, weakness at the point of attack and poor tackling in the tape that I saw of him. If the pass rush chops are there, then this pick is fine but otherwise, I view this one as a miss for the Bears.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: I wouldn’t touch Floyd in any redraft league. I doubt he will be on the field enough to make an impact.
Dynasty: Not a big fan of Floyd dynasty-wise either. Subpackage guys typically struggle to score reliably enough to stay on fantasy rosters.

Shaq Lawson – Rush OLB

6’3” 269 lbs  Clemson
Pick 19, Round 1 (19)  Bills

Shaq Lawson is maybe the exact opposite player to that of Leonard Floyd. Lawson is stocky, powerful and built like a tank. His strength and ability to shed blockers is NFL calibre without a doubt. Lawson possesses short range explosion and power that are required to be a force at the line of scrimmage and even defeat the odd double team. A plus defender against the run and a rock solid edge-setter, Lawson has a pretty good shot at playing three downs at OLB if he can handle it, even as a rookie. I am assuming that Rex installs more 3-4 in the defense this year causing Lawson to stand up. If Buffalo remains predominantly 4-3, Lawson is big enough that he plays with his hand in the dirt. All that said, his pass rush moves are frankly, a little pedestrian however. Even though, he is a beast power-wise, he won’t be able to win with power moves nearly as often as he did in college and he doesn’t possess any speed or finesse moves that will beat an NFL tackle but will get home on motor alone on occasion. He’s not as flexible or agile as you’d like out of your pass rusher and can’t play in space reliably either but Rex Ryan’s scheme could open things up for him as well. All in, he’s probably the most week 1 ready rush OLB in the draft the way I see it.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Out of all of the rush OLBs in the draft, I’m giving Lawson the best chance to make an impact as a rookie for fantasy purposes. The reason for this is that I think Lawson will get the most snaps as a rookie, especially in run support. That said, I’m not saying Lawson is starting material either. He’s a late round flier or waiver wire watch target.
Dynasty: Lawson would be a player that I’d try to find a spot for in dynasty on my taxi squad, regardless of format. I think that he could have some Ryan Kerrigan or James Harrison type of games in him if he develops the way he needs to. I wouldn’t spend more than a 4th or 5th round rookie pick on him though.

Darron Lee – 3-4 ILB

6’1” 232 lbs  Ohio State
Pick 20, Round 1 (20)  Jets

Lee is a rangy linebacker who will play inside for the Jets. Currently, the Jets feature stalwart veteran David Harris and relative newcomer Erin Henderson at ILB. Demario Davis left the Jets to join the Browns. Lee instantly becomes the fastest ILB on the team, clocking a 4.47 forty yard dash time at the combine. If the Jets are looking for sideline to sideline play and better coverage skills from their ILBs, I expect Lee to take a lion’s share of snaps beside Harris, leaving the journeyman Henderson to pick up scraps. Lee possesses elite instincts and fluidity which really aids him in play diagnosis and tracking down ballcarriers. The problem with Lee is getting there and doing something about it. Lee doesn’t really play like a 232 lb linebacker. He bulked up a bit to show some size at the combine but might not be able to keep 230 lbs on his frame. He looks like an oversized safety. As such, he can struggle to shed blocks at times and doesn’t strike fear into many ballcarriers when engaging to tackle. According to scouting reports, he had a staggering 12 missed tackles on 72 attempts last year. I do think that if the Jets can keep Lee clean, he is a massive upgrade for their defense however. Maybe the most surprising thing about Lee is that he was a very capable blitzer when called upon last year with his ability to slash through the line. If he gets touched though, he will get wiped out.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: If Lee can win a starting job out of camp, I think that balanced and tackle heavy leagues could draft Lee as an LB3/4 or flex defender.
Dynasty: Lee is close to the top of my list for dynasty prospects in the draft. He has no injury concerns that could potentially shorten his career and a clear path to playing time. He is a safe dynasty pick, but not necessarily the highest upside. I’d slot him as the dynasty LB4 of the draft.

Emmanuel Ogbah – Rush OLB

6’4” 273 lbs  Oklahoma State
Pick 1, Round 2 (32)  Browns

It seems as though Cleveland desperately tries to fill their rush OLB role every year and every year they manage to draft someone who underwhelms at the position. This year, the Browns led off Friday with the pick of Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah has prototypical size for a 3-4 rush OLB but doesn’t play like it all the time. Inconsistencies mark his game and his effort is questionable at times. Being 6’4” 273 lbs, he is strong but doesn’t possess the elite strength you’d expect of a man his size and he can play too upright at times. That said, the productivity he achieved in college is unquestioned with consistent wins against would-be blockers leading to multiple hurries and sacks. While his power moves are rock solid, he is a bit of a one trick pony and doesn’t have much by way of speed or finesse moves to go to if his blocker is stuffing his bull rush. He isn’t a liability against the run power-wise but his lack of football instincts isn’t ideal on early downs.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Even in big play leagues, I’m staying away from Ogbah.
Dynasty: If I was trying to fill out a taxi squad, I’d look towards other rush OLBs like Bosa or Lawson before taking Ogbah. I wouldn’t give him consideration in dynasty either.

Kevin Dodd – Rush OLB

6’5” 277 lbs  Clemson
Pick 2, Round 2 (33)  Titans

Despite the lack of experience compared to many of the LBs off the board at this point in the draft, Kevin Dodd went to the Titans one pick after Ogbah. The NFL rarely seems to be scared off by only one year of quality production, unless you are a QB. The bookend to Shaq Lawson at Clemson, Dodd was able to consistently generate pressure for the Tigers in 2015, logging 12 sacks. My issue with those numbers is Dodd never faced the best blockers on the college teams he played against, Lawson typically did. One year of good to great production against college right tackles might not translate to elite level production. To his credit, Dodd’s motor is impressive and relentless. You can’t really question his effort. He plays strong and can win with power. In addition, despite the lack of starting experience, I like his football IQ. He rarely overpursues, he has edge discipline and can be relied on to be in his gap. As for Dodd’s NFL prospects, he is clearly behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan so don’t expect significant playtime for him early unless injuries hit.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Same story here, I’m passing on Dodd in all redraft formats.
Dynasty: I’m probably passing on Dodd in dynasty also. Too much in his way to be an every-week fantasy contributor as it stands. He needs some help in order to see regular snap counts.

Jaylon Smith – MLB

6’2” 223 lbs  Notre Dame
Pick 3, Round 2 (34)  Cowboys

In my opinion, this pick is where the draft really got interesting. Leave it to Jerry Jones to make two big splashes with his first two picks. If he was healthy, many were debating whether Smith could be in contention for a top 3 selection. However, a torn ACL/LCL in the Fiesta bowl dashed those dreams and Smith’s NFL draft status became very uncertain. Many teams reportedly did not have the former Irish LB on their draft boards after reports of nerve damage and an almost guaranteed loss of the 2016 season in the cards. In an interesting coincidence, the Cowboys team doctor was the surgeon that rebuilt Smith’s knee and is staking his reputation on the former Butkus award winner’s recovery. Jaylon Smith is a prototypical weakside linebacker in the NFL. His range and ability to track ballcarriers and would-be receivers are almost unparalleled in the draft. He possesses rare agility and on-the-field speed that translates into downhill attacks on his target and his instincts rarely lead him astray in acquiring that target. One of the very few criticisms I have on his game is that his tackling could stand to improve. NFL runningbacks will break through some of the arm tackles he was able to get away with in college. In terms of his landing spot, while I think his size lends his to WLB, the Cowboys want him at MLB so that Sean Lee can stay on the weakside. Either way, the Cowboys would be thrilled to turn over a starting LB spot to Smith as soon as he is able to take one and it won’t be on the strong-side which lends itself to fantasy relevance.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: You can’t draft Jaylon Smith in redraft this year. The best case scenario sees Smith go on PUP and play a couple games at the end of the year. But if it were up to me, you redshirt him until he is 100%. Look for him in 2017.
Dynasty: I think the talent and situation are the best that the draft has to offer for LBs this year. The only downsides to Smith are the loss of 2016 production and a risk that he never returns to form. His value is higher in tackle-heavy and balanced leagues and but also carries less value to fantasy teams looking to win now. Draft accordingly. This is a home run swing for the 2017 season and beyond for both the Cowboys and your fantasy team.

Myles Jack – 4-3 OLB

6’1” 241 lbs UCLA
Pick 5, Round 2 (36)  Jaguars

I’m still scratching my head on this one. Maybe the most versatile football player that has come to the NFL in decades is available and a torn meniscus scares away every team? Myles Jack is a rare athlete that played linebacker for the Bruins. And safety… And cornerback… And running back. Jack scored 7 TDs and averaged over 7 YPC as a true freshman at running back while also logging 75 tackles at linebacker. Jack’s foray into cornerback and safety was not without merit either. Jack was able to lock down first round pick WR Nelson Agholor in man coverage despite having over 40 pounds on the former first round pick receiver. That’s how elite his cover skills are. Jack possesses very rare gifts that men much smaller than him wish they had. His elite speed and agility belie a fierce hitter and strong presence at the point of attack. He can go sideline to sideline and sift through blocks to make plays on the run. His versatility has been talked about but he can also slot in at any LB spot (weak, middle or strong) because of his size, speed and cover ability. Jack instantly becomes the best cover LB on the Jaguars and maybe the best strong safety as well, making him built for three down play. I say that because it is not for sure where the former Bruin lines up in the Jaguars defense. Telvin Smith is too small to play anything but WLB. Paul Poslusnzy is still the leader of the defense and probably isn’t going to be able to hold up on the strong side. Dan Skuta was serviceable last year but is the most likely to see his snaps diminished. The Jaguars could get creative and put Jack at safety on running downs. He wouldn’t be a liability in coverage and would probably be a plus defender over current options. Many other teams, most notably the Chargers, were talking about doing that very thing with Jack were they to end up with him. Along with a position risk, there are many mouths to feed on that defense with Smith and Poslusnzy gobbling up a combined 261 total tackles last year. Ultimately, this situation will flesh itself out in camp likely which makes drafting Jack a bit of a risk. In addition, Jack himself revealed that he has a degenerative knee condition that might require microfracture surgery in the future. This is what caused his draft slide. While it is concerning, Jack is still head and shoulders above many other LB prospects in this draft, knee condition or not.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Jack carries some good value for redraft teams. While his role is undefined currently, his path to playing time isn’t being questioned. Jack would be an LB3 as it stands assuming three down play but could rise to LB2 with some clarity on his role.
Dynasty: Paul Poslusnzy is 32 years old at the midpoint of the 2016 season and has already taken a pay cut once to remain on the Jaguars. I believe that Jack moves into the middle of the defense and remains a three down player once Poslusnzy is given his walking papers, maybe as soon as next year. This potential catapults Jack to second on my dynasty value list but arguably a safer pick than Jaylon Smith.

Reggie Ragland – 3-4 ILB / 4-3 WLB

6’1” 247 lbs  Alabama
Pick 10, Round 2 (41)  Bills

Reggie Ragland is a throwback linebacker. His hitting ability is unequalled in this draft. A true tone-setter and defensive leader, this is a slam dunk Rex Ryan pick. With a high football IQ and rarely being caught out of position, Ragland is a trustworthy player that you slot into the middle of your defense and have a plus run defender as well as an adequate blitzer. The downside of Ragland’s game is a perceived lack of speed and cover ability. He seems to be a little slow in adapting to the play of his side of the line of scrimmage. Plays where he is attacking downhill are much more his style, although it will be interesting to see how he adapts to not being kept clean by his defensive linemen on every play as he was in Alabama. With Nigel Bradham traded to Philly, there was an opening in the defense that I expect Ragland to fill. He currently looks to be a WLB in 4-3 looks and WILB in 3-4 looks for Buffalo with similarly sized Preston Brown playing MLB and SILB in those same looks respectively. Ragland’s coverage abilities will be the true test of his value on this defense. Former Titan Zach Brown is currently in the way in terms of the depth chart but I don’t foresee a problem for Ragland to win a starting role out of camp.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Assuming Ragland wins a job out of camp, I think he carries LB3 value for redraft teams.
Dynasty: Ragland’s path to the starting lineup is pretty clear and success in his role could make him the next Bart Scott. That potential puts him very close to Darron Lee in terms of fantasy value as the LB5 for dynasty.

Deion Jones – 4-3 WLB/MLB

6’1” 222 lbs  LSU
Pick 21, Round 2 (52)  Falcons

Deion Jones is the rangy, coverage linebacker that the Falcons need to play in the NFC South. His strength is agility, quick change of direction and lateral mobility, something that the Falcons defense has lacked for a long time. He is built like a smaller weakside linebacker but plays bigger than his size, regularly engaging blockers and ballcarriers in the hole violently. He needs to wrap up and bring down ballcarriers with good tackling technique more reliably however. Despite the smaller size, early reports state that the Falcons want him to take the starting middle linebacker job out of camp. While it wouldn’t surprise me to see De’Vondre Campbell (who is bigger than Jones) get a look at MLB, Jones will at least slot in at WLB. That could be huge blow to Paul Worrilow owners but potentially big news for the former Tiger’s fantasy value. Jones is already the best coverage LB on the Falcons and should be playing three downs regardless of where he lines up. While I’m not a big fan of one year starters, the NFL doesn’t seem to mind this for linebackers. It does bring up the question of whether he can command the defense or not.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Whether Jones plays MLB or WLB, I think he possesses the most upside for redraft leagues as is. He is a three down player at WLB or MLB on a weaker defense. I like him for LB2 value on balanced and tackle heavy leagues. If he wins the MLB job, Jones has to be considered a low-end LB1.
Dynasty: The Falcons MLB job has consistently placed top 10 LBs recently when manned by a three down player, be it Paul Worrilow or Curtis Lofton. They have even carried top 20 value for WLBs in the recent past. The sky is the limit for Jones provided he can stay on the field and make plays. I’d grab Jones as the dynasty LB3 of the draft as is but look to move him up if he wins the MLB job clean.

Nick Vigil – 4-3 MLB

6’2” 239 lbs  Utah State
Pick 24, Round 3 (87)  Bengals
Twitter: N/A

The pick is one I’m not sure about unless the Bengals have plans to cut someone. Even without AJ Hawk, the Bengals have 6 LBs clearly ahead the former Aggie on the depth chart. Surely you’d want your 3rd round pick closer to the field than that? Vigil is a solid if unspectacular addition to the Bengal LB corps. His calling card is reliable, dependable tackle production. He is where he needs to be, when he needs to be there and makes a sure tackle at the end. He is smoother than he is given credit for in coverage but might not have the speed to run with NFL running backs or some tight ends for as long as he may be asked to. His size doesn’t translate to as much power as you’d like as well and Vigil may struggle to shed blocks if engaged by linemen that make it to the second level.

Fantasy Impact/Value
Redraft: Even if injuries strike, Vigil won’t sniff the field this year. Stay away.
Dynasty: I think Vigil has potential to succeed in the NFL in the right situation but the Bengals might not be the right situation; at least not with the current personnel. I’d be comfortable drafting Vigil among the 6th – 9th LB off the board but understanding that I might have to wait a year or two before getting any return.

Best of the rest

Joe Schobert/Scooby Wright – 4th round/7th round (Browns) – There is a gaping hole at LILB next to newly signed Demario Davis. Christian Kirksey has failed to lock down the job previously. Schobert is a trained 3-4 OLB but isn’t big enough to play outside. ILB Scooby Wright is a steal for the Browns in the 7th round and is a watch target of mine through Browns camp.
De’Vondre Campbell – 4th round (Falcons) – All three Falcons LB spots could use an upgrade and if Deion Jones slots into WLB, it isn’t a stretch to see the bigger Campbell getting a look at MLB, although he is better suited for SLB.
Antonio Morrison – 4th round (Colts) – The Colts did not replace Jerrell Freeman in free agency and have only replacement level talent beside D’Qwell Jackson. Projecting him as a three down LB is a stretch but he is a good two-down hitter who could emerge to take some decent snaps.
Blake Martinez – 4th round (Packers) – More than any other team in the league, the Packers give opportunity to their later round defensive players. In fact, last year’s 4th round pick LB Jake Ryan (who was on my recommendations list last year) is a projected starter this year. Martinez doesn’t have much in his way to get some snaps in the Packers defense beside Ryan.

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